What is BBC Scotland’s obsession with obesity about? These are only a selected few headlines
Today in repeated brief TV and radio inserts but in more detail on the BBC Scotland website:
‘Almost a quarter of children in Scotland are starting school at risk of being overweight or obese. A new National Statistics report revealed 22.4% of P1 pupils have potentially problematic BMIs. The proportion of pupils entering education overweight has remained constant since the start of the century. Obesity in childhood is associated with a wide range of health problems such as risk factors for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, emotional distress and mental health difficulties.’
While the research is based on reliable scientific methods, it is only one and the BBC report is unbalanced and inadequate on three counts.
First, they fail to take account of the important predictive work done by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, reported in the Independent on 26th May 2018 which suggested:
‘Under current trends it is predicted that 11 per cent of the population in Wales will be morbidly obese in 2035, roughly 340,000 adults, while Scotland is likely to plateau at about 5 per cent and England will rise to about 8 per cent.’
The researchers offer a surprisingly clear, confident and simple explanation for the significantly slower growth in Scotland – Scottish Government policy initiatives and resource allocation aimed primarily at children:
‘The government put a massive push on developing a route map for how we can actually combat this. They put together resources from the NHS that were proving to be effective. They did put a lot of work into it.’
Second, published on the 26th November 2018, new research findings support the London School findings:
From Growing Up in Scotland: Overweight and Obesity at Age 10:
‘Historic data from the survey shows that the prevalence of overweight [in Scotland] including obesity remained relatively stable between 1998 and 2016, fluctuating between 28% and 33%. However, in recent years levels of obesity have shown a steady decline dropping from 17% in 2014. This is largely due to a decline in obesity amongst boys which have dropped from 20% in 2012 to 12% in 2017 [40%].’ (14)
Third, the use of the BMI index is controversial. See this:
‘But increasingly researchers and health experts are speaking out to say BMI isn’t the perfect measure of health we once thought. Last year, a study by UCLA concluded that tens of millions of people who had overweight and obese BMI scores were in fact perfectly healthy.’
‘BMI (body mass index), which is based on the height and weight of a person, is an inaccurate measure of body fat content and does not take into account muscle mass, bone density, overall body composition, and racial and sex differences, say researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.’
So, the BBC Scotland report is typically flawed by lack of background research, a passive attitude to research and consequently it lacks balance, but does it matter that much? See this:
‘Social policy and health strategies target individuals’ behaviours as though all were at risk. We are all involved in helping to defuse a health time bomb! This feeds a media frenzy and is of course a gift for the multi-billion dietary industry. The preoccupations of the powerful with the body’s appearance of a few are visited on the wider population, through a fear of fat. The message is that anyone could get fat, everyone is at risk and that the risk begins very early in life. This stimulates a constant, anxiety-driven, routine of self-surveillance, and helps to produce a lifestyle for many that is riddled with needless anxiety and conspicuously short of fun.’
So, the TV News moral panic around obesity may be generating greater levels of anxiety in the wider population. That anxiety in turn, it seems, may be influencing voting intentions. In the recent US presidential elections, explaining support for Trump:
‘Controlling for other demographic variables, three factors stood out as strong independent predictors of how white working-class people would vote. The first was anxiety about cultural change. Sixty-eight percent of white working-class voters said the American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence.’
In the recent EU referendum, explaining support for Leave:
‘Community considerations are closely linked to national identities and the ‘fear of outsiders’ with people who subscribe to a more exclusive national identity or who feel threatened by mass immigration being significantly more Eurosceptic than those who have more inclusive identities, such as feeling ‘British’ and ‘European’.’
So, a mediated panic about an ‘epidemic’ of obesity contributes to generalised anxiety in the electorate and an anxious electorate prefers the familiarity of an imagined, 1950s, USA or Britain, undivided and more ethnically homogenous.
Why then does BBC Scotland seem so obsessed with reporting in this way on obesity? They have reported many times in recent months and have even produced an extended documentary based on ‘courageous investigative’ journalism in darkest Ayrshire. I have complained about all of it. See:
I’m not, of course, suggesting that BBC Scotland News is deliberately weaponizing obesity with a view to undermining support for Scottish independence. I am saying that the editorial decisions leading to intensive, negative, distorted and sensationalist reporting of obesity in Scotland emerges from an essentially British cultural setting which habitually tends toward reporting choices and styles which portray Scots and Scotland, commonly, in a subtly negative and confidence weakening manner.
For more detail on this admittedly controversial idea see: